Decriminalization Doesn’t Do the Whole Job
By Fred Ross
Michael is 23, African-American and incarcerated because he was caught with a bag of marijuana. Now he’s a “repeat offender” because of a similar arrest years ago. He’s lost his job, freedoms, college plans, perhaps his shot at any decent future.
No matter it was just over the 99-gram maximum amount “decriminalized” some time ago in Ohio—and that he wasn’t dealing. Or that a young white guy might have as much as a 4-to-1 edge over Michael in being able to walk away from that bust without arrest. No matter the lack of effectiveness either, with more than eight million marijuana arrests made in the United States in 10 years—88% for simple possession. And no matter that half the country doesn’t think it should be a criminal offense. On top of this all, there’s the expense: marijuana arrests cost Ohio taxpayers over $120 million in 2010 alone.
Why are we still policing marijuana this way?
If it doesn’t make sense to you to destroy someone’s future over possession of marijuana, you’re not alone. But there are plenty of forces maintaining the status quo.
- Lawmakers are beholden to those financing them. In 2014, almost 12,000 lobbyists funneled over $3.2 billion into electing, defeating, or influencing our lawmakers. So decriminalization is low on their priority list.
- Powerful special interest groups actively oppose decriminalization. Prominent among these are police unions, private prison corporations, corrections officers’ groups, alcoholic beverage companies, and pharmaceutical corporations. And they have a lot of political clout.
- Home rule in Ohio allows local governments to pass harsher marijuana laws. While state lawmakers decriminalized marijuana possession decades ago, individual cities can still levy higher penalties. So a ticket in Toledo, which recently decriminalized by a 2-to-1 margin in September, could mean three nights in jail in Medina.
Time for a Fresh Start
Despite a political climate in Ohio with no appetite for change, voters have a chance this year to stop the harms of the current system.
In 2012, Ohio officers arrested or cited 14,374 people for marijuana-related offenses, 94 percent of which were for possession only.
Issue 3 will legalize marijuana in Ohio. Minor crimes like possession that make up the bulk of marijuana arrests will become largely a thing of the past. Those who criticize Issue 3 because it still places regulations on the production, sale, and possession of the drug need to realize that substances like alcohol and tobacco are also regulated by the state. It’s simply unreasonable to think that legalization would make the drug completely unregulated.
Equally as important is the Fresh Start Act, a statute initiative that could go into effect if Issue 3 passes. This would provide an avenue for people like Michael to remove barriers to jobs and education placed on them by ineffective and harmful marijuana laws. Expungement will provide an opportunity to start undoing the harms of the War on Drugs in Ohio.
Vote YES on Issue 3! Early voting starts October 6.
Ohio has too many stories of lives needlessly ruined by marijuana prohibition. If you want to stop hearing these stories, now’s your chance to do something about it.